Sen. Mitt Romney has proposed a major overhaul to the tax and welfare system for parents, and it has triggered a debate among serious thinkers on the Right.

Ramesh Ponnuru admits there may be some negative effects of this overhaul (we don’t know!), but he adds, importantly, “It would also make it easier for people to start and expand their families.” Ross Douthat agrees that Romney’s proposal could help America make more babies.

Scott Winship, on the other hand, worries that Romney’s proposal will create disincentives for work and marriage.

There’s a lot to process and digest in Romney’s proposal and the debates around them, but I find the debate over workforce effects the most interesting right now. I think it’s always good to replace programs that punish work (by reducing benefits as income rises) with programs that don’t punish work (Romney’s child allowance doesn’t phase out until after $200,000).

However, Romney’s proposal would shrink the (complicated) pro-work effect of the current Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. Importantly, Romney would simply increase federal aid to families. Both of these changes may lead to more people dropping out of the labor force. But that may not be a bad thing.

I’m very concerned about people who drop out of the labor force. It’s a central indicator/cause/manifestation of alienation, about which I’ve written a book. But also, sometimes, parents leaving the labor force is good because they’re leaving the labor force in order to become stay-at-home mothers or fathers. And, in general, we need more stay-at-home parents.

This last claim isn’t something everyone agrees with. The Biden administration has economists who prefer paid leave and child-care subsidies because they deeply believe we need to get mothers into the workforce as much as possible. Melinda Gates seems to think moving women from mothering to paid labor is a crucial crusade.

But there are many reasons to believe we need more stay-at-home parents than we have. The two simplest are these: Many mothers want to be home more and at work less, and neighborhoods benefit from having parents around.

First, helping parents stay home with their children can amount to giving people what they want. Just before the pandemic, 15% of mothers in the paid workforce wished they were doing less paid work. These numbers have recently been higher — for instance, Pew found in 2012 that a majority of mothers in full-time paid jobs wished they were only part time, or fully stay-at-home.

Second, communities benefit when there are mothers on front porches, fathers at the playground, and parents who can easily be around at 3 p.m. It’s one reason upper-middle-class communities have so much more civic involvement: More parents who can be around the neighborhood more, thanks to the more flexible work schedules white-collar jobs tend to offer.

If you want to help the working class and middle class, you could do worse than making it easier for working-class families to dial back the paid work of one of the parents.

This may seem an odd topic to talk about amid a pandemic, when millions more parents are both at home and in the workforce, but the crisis actually highlights another benefit for stay-at-home parents. Closing schools was a much bigger shock because we had so few people who could stay home without a major life adjustment.

Again, there's much more to debate on Romney's proposal, but if it drives down labor-force participation of second-earners in married couples with children, well, that's a good thing.